Ministers say the new posts will make police more accountable to local concerns but critics say they will politicise the service. The elections themselves are likely to see record low turnout as there is no public funding for campaign literature and only the Conservatives are active supporters of the plans.
Asked about the danger of apathy surrounding the elections, after voters opposed elected mayors in many cities earlier this month, Ms Thornton, chief constable of Thames Valley Police, said: "If there had been a referendum on police commissioners it wouldn't have been voted in.
"On the other hand I don't think it would be good for the service if there is a very low turnout in November.
"The issue about more extreme candidates becomes a bigger issue.
"All of us are democrats and we want to encourage people to engage with policing. If people don't get involved with policing and come out and vote it's not good for the service.
"I raised this with the Home Secretary last Friday. She did promise they're going to try and do some more and encourage people to vote."
She said police officers are not allowed to encourage people to vote but insisted: "I think it's in the interests of the service to have as big a turnout as possible. Ten per cent would be really demoralising."
Rachel Robinson from the human rights group Liberty added: "If certain extreme groups are able to mobilise their supporters to turn out to vote and general turnout is incredibly low then we're facing a really serious problem, and minority groups can legitimately be fearful about the kind of service they're going to receive in the future."
Mr Herbert, the policing minister, was met with complete silence when he addressed a room full of police inspectors.
He acknowledged the Government's spending plans are "very challenging" for forces to undertake but admitted there was "nothing I can do" about the budgets set for the next four years.
He was told by Carolyn Davies of the Metropolitan Police that women are leaving the service in "droves" because flexible and part-time working is being removed. She says that 868 of the 7,500 officers who left policing in England and Wales last year were women.
The minister agreed: "At a time of recruitment freezes there is a danger that progress could be halted."
Mr Herbert was mocked when he suggested that not all in the service oppose the Winsor suggestion of direct entry at inspector level, which would for the first time allow outsiders to come straight into the police force at senior levels.
"I don't think there's a universal view in the service that's opposed to direct entry."
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said Labour would ensure injured officers are given jobs rather than dismissed under the Winsor proposals for reform of police pay and conditions.
She told the conference: "When a police officer, seriously injured in the line of duty, is determined to return to the policing job they love, they should not be penalised."